Taking a plunge for Wendy

Those close to Wendy Babcock say she would never have jumped out of an airplane. But on Sept. 12, Babcock’s friend Lia Grimanis says, Babcock was by her side as Grimanis glided to the ground after a skydive north of Toronto, wrote Xtra magazine in a story about fundraising efforts being made in honour of the deceased York student.

Babcock, who was found dead Aug. 9, was a passionate local advocate for sex workers and a prominent voice for trans rights across Canada. She was well known on Toronto’s frontlines, ensuring that the city’s most marginalized street people didn’t fall through the cracks.

Like Babcock, Grimanis was once homeless after she fled an abusive home at a young age. She is now a successful Toronto businesswoman and daredevil adventurer. Grimanis runs Up with Women, a non-profit organization she started to help homeless women and children rebuild their lives.

Her skydive kicks off a campaign to raise $10,000 for the new Wendy Babcock education fund for homeless youth.

She says any donations made through Up with Women from Sept. 12 to 30 will be matched up to $5,000. All funds raised will be donated to Eva’s Initiatives, the group administering the fund.

“I hope many more homeless women are inspired by her story,” Grimanis says. “Eva’s is the reason Wendy was able to rebuild her life. The fund will help other young women pursue education.”

Before becoming a student at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, a teenaged Babcock was a homeless sex worker.

The perils of putting Bubbie and Zeyda online

Jonathan Kay, columnist for the National Post, wrote on Sept. 15: On Monday night, I got the following email from a well-meaning, but misinformed, Jewish father: "Sarah just called me from York (University in Toronto). She was attending a class that she wanted to join. Within the first few minutes of introduction to the class, the professor stated his class needs no Internet access; his class is based solely on opinion. ‘What is an opinion?’ he said. ‘Well, I have an opinion that people will find offensive. Jews need to be sterilized. That’s my opinion.’ Sarah walked out and publicly suggested to the other Jewish student in the class to do the same. The other student stayed in the class. Sarah then called me shaken up and livid."

Turns out Sarah was confused. The professor in question – who happens to be Jewish –actually was using hyperbole to illustrate the sort of vile opinion ("Jews need to be sterilized") that he didn’t want to hear aired in his classroom. By flying off the handle, Sarah was unwittingly doing an impression of Gilda Radner’s "Oh, well that’s very different" schtick on Saturday Night Live. ("What’s all this fuss I hear about saving Soviet jewelry? What makes Soviet jewelry so special!? .)

Except that Sarah didn’t stick around for the punchline. And even when the real story came out, she was too proud to admit her mistake. "The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth," she told the media. "So regardless of the context, I still think that’s pretty serious." By this weird logic, the fact that Sarah herself repeated the words "Jews should be sterilized" to a reporter means she’s just another presumed hater.

Putting Sarah herself to one side, I found it interesting how quickly the story made the rounds of the Internet. Within the space of a few hours on Monday night, five different middle-aged or senior-citizen Jewish correspondents sent me variations on this story.  

This is part of a trend. When I started this job in 1998, most of the bogus stories I got by email were from younger correspondents – because there just weren’t that many older people online. But then two things happened.

First, young web surfers taught themselves how to check facts, by using Wikipedia and Snopes and other reputable sites. To avoid making reply-all fools of themselves, they stopped mass-forwarding bogus stories of the York U variety.

Second, when those young adults started going off to college, or moving away – their parents had to figure out email and Facebook and webcams in order to communicate with their kids and view pictures of their grandchildren. But these 50-, 60-, and 70-year old Internauts, having grown up in the age of print, never figured out that most of what you read online is made up. So when their sister-in-law’s hairdresser sends them something shocking, they uncriticially pass it on to their friends.

Canada’s Jewish community, I’ve found, is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. Thanks to the dense electronic civil society that binds together Jewish study groups, synagogue congregations and pro-Israel NGOs – call it "Bubbie-and-Zeyda-Net" – any story involving anti-Semitism tends to spread like wildfire.

  • The story, involving York social science Professor Cameron Johnston and student Sarah Grunfeld, also drew widespread comment on radio talk shows and Internet sites.

The waterfront’s sad history of errors

Toronto’s waterfront is at a pivotal historical moment, wrote York environmental studies Professor Gene Desfor and Jennefer Laidley in the Toronto Star Sept. 15. For a decade, the city’s long legacy of unfulfilled waterfront plans and cantankerous relationships among government agencies, development organizations and the general public has been resolved. But Mayor Rob Ford’s recently announced "vision" has created a crisis by destabilizing this hard-won accord.

His proposal would destroy multi-jurisdictional support for Waterfront Toronto, a joint governmental venture and Toronto’s lead waterfront planning and development organization. Waterfront Toronto’s already approved plans envision a territory of promise that is seen as crucial for competitive urban growth. Developers from around the world have signed onto these plans and have begun to convert problem areas into opportunity spaces for a 21st century city.

But Ford’s vision for the waterfront is not a plan at all. Instead, as he and his supporters on council have confirmed, it is a way to solve the city’s fiscal problem – by selling major parcels of waterfront land. But this ill-considered and previously tried proposal ignores what would be best for the waterfront and the city. And it ignores lessons from our shared history.

Ford’s proposal threatens to return Toronto’s waterfront to the "bad old days" of jurisdictional gridlock and developer-driven, uncoordinated development. We hope that all city councillors will ensure that our waterfront’s future isn’t compromised by repeating mistakes of the past.

Liquid calories: How pop, alcohol and fruit juices are making us fat

Liquid certainly is the stuff of life, but today our cups runneth over with beverage choices – energy drinks and anti-energy ones, vitamin-enhanced waters, vegetable and fruit blends in alluring exotic flavours, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 15, in a story about the connection between beverages and weight gain.

“It’s a huge problem,” says Katie Warwick, a Toronto Western Hospital dietitian who works with people referred for bariatric surgery. “A lot of our patients aren’t aware of how many calories they’re actually drinking. There’s the misperception that if it’s healthy, such as milk or juice, the calories don’t cause weight gain.”

“Two trends are taking place: Our search for variety and our search for reassurances about health,” says Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “We’re suckers for anything saying healthy.”

NHL deaths: Isolated events or bigger issue?

Wade Belak, dead at 35. Rick Rypien, dead at 27. Derek Boogaard, dead at 28. All played in the NHL last season, wrote the Raleigh News & Observer Sept. 15. All were enforcers, rough-and-tumble players who delivered a lot of blows and received a lot in return, often to the head. All died in the past four months,

Some, including Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button, have said the fact Belak, Rypien and Boogaard all filled the same role as tough guys can’t be overlooked. "It goes beyond coincidence," Paul Dennis, a sports psychologist at York University [School of Kinesiology & Health Sciences, Faculty of Health] in Toronto, told CBC Radio.

Dennis said the culture of the sport, of "manning up" and internalizing everything, must change. "The culture of sport, the brave face, is great. But sometimes that culture keeps a lot of things inside," Dennis told the Ottawa Sun. "I’m not condemning people for not getting involved with these players. When Wade played, he was very open in his optimism, but it goes to prove we all have demons. We don’t know what those demons are if they’re not telling us."

Critics slam Nova Scotia’s silence on offshore safety body

Critics are raising red flags about Nova Scotia’s inaction nearly a year after an inquiry into a fatal helicopter crash off Newfoundland called for the creation of an independent safety agency for the offshore energy industry, wrote The Telegram (St. John’s, Nfld.) Sept. 15.

The Newfoundland inquiry, led by retired judge Robert Wells, found serious flaws with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Wells said the board did not have a "strong engagement" in helicopter operations, and it suffered from a lack of transparency and a lack of autonomous safety staff, which could contribute to a conflict of interest

A spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the industry group isn’t in a position to comment because it’s up to the two levels of government to decide what to do. During the Wells inquiry, however, the association said no big changes were needed.

Gail Fraser, a professor at Toronto’s York University [Faculty of Environmental Studies] and an expert on the environmental management of oil and gas extraction, said the industry’s response is telling. "When the industry says that it’s satisfied and they have no issues with their regulator, to me it raises red flags that the relationship might be too close," she said.

T.O. strippers have brains too

Toronto has some of the "most intellectual" strippers in Canada, wrote the Toronto Sun Sept. 15, in a story about the amount of postsecondary students who are working in the city as exotic dancers.

A ban on imported foreign dancers in 2006 forced Toronto-area strip club owners to recruit elsewhere, and they now have hundreds of students from top colleges and universities taking to the stage after classes to earn tuition money.

"We have one of the most intellectual workforces in all of Canada," Tim Lambrinos of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada said. "Almost half of our dancers at some clubs are students."

Lambrinos said about 500 of the 1,500 registered dancers are students from Toronto, Ryerson and York universities, and Humber, Centennial and Seneca colleges. He said they represent about 50 per cent of the 700-dancer workforce on any given night in Toronto.

One dancer, who goes by the name of Nicole, said she stripped for four years while studying business administration at York University.

"It was very hard but I managed to do it and I am very proud," Nicole said. "I came from a poor family and dancing gave me an opportunity."

York student part of library challenge

More than 500 library lovers have penned essays, drawn pictures and produced short films for the "Why My Library Matters to Me" challenge, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 15, in a story about a recent contest sponsored by the Toronto Library Worker’s Union.

Each wants the prize of lunch with a celebrity author – one of whom is Margaret Atwood. All have declared their devotion to Toronto’s public libraries.

Among them will be Melissa Cederqvist, whose two-minute film Charlie Chaplin and the Quest for the Holy Gravy tickled the judges’ funny bones. We checked in with Cederqvist, a York University student, to find out why the iconic Charlie was the best character to defend the city’s libraries.

Q: Why did you enter the contest?

A: It was a great initiative by the authors who were running it. But also because, by nature, libraries are humble. They don’t self-aggrandize and they really should because they are so beneficial to society. We just thought it was our duty when we saw something wrong – like the cuts – that maybe we should speak out about it.

Grad student runs for NDP

David Hynes [MA ’10] has a backup plan in the event that he isn’t elected as the new MPP for St. Paul’s, wrote the Town Crier Sept. 14.

The first-time New Democratic Party candidate, who taught English in Japan for five years and recently finished his master’s in political science at York University, believes he is likely to win, Oct. 6.

“I’ve been promoted to the PhD and I’ll be starting there on the off-chance that I don’t win the election,” he said. “I think people are really fed up with the Liberals and with the municipal government.”